Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes chronic diseases of the digestive tract. IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's Disease. Symptoms of these disorders include severe cramps, diarrhea and weight loss. Some people experience joint pain or mouth ulcers. IBD is a serious condition that currently is not curable. Treatment can put the symptoms into remission, but the way a person is affected by IBD can change over time. There is a risk of symptoms flaring up, even with medication. IBD is often called an invisible illness, because someone may seem fine while suffering from painful internal problems.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed with Crohn's disease or IBD, you might be very concerned about how their life will be affected. Talking about bowel problems isn't easy under the best of circumstances. Dealing with a serious health condition can compound the problem. Patients with colitis and Crohn's need the support of their family and friends. IBD is not contagious. You won't catch it. The more you know about IBD, the more you can help your loved one.
Be Aware of Privacy
Although you may have good intentions, you should discuss your interest in IBD with your friend or relative before gathering too much detailed information. Health conditions can be very private. Delving into the condition can make your loved one feel as if you are taking control from them. Ask for consent to read about IBD to avoid misunderstandings. Discuss how much information your loved one wants to share. Don't take it personally if your loved one doesn't want to talk about their condition. Let your friend or relative share as much or as little as they want.
Understand the Complexity of IBD
Crohn's and colitis symptoms can feel embarrassing. Many patients hide symptoms because of the stigma attached to diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Some people live in isolation due to fear of being dismissed. Many patients are told that the symptoms are all in their head, or that they're making up the severity of the symptoms. Diagnosing IBD isn't easy, either. It can take multiple health procedures and laboratory tests before diagnosis and treatment.
IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although the two diseases sound similar in nature, IBS is a disorder in the gastrointestinal tract. IBD affects the bowel wall and intestines. IBS can be diagnosed with a blood test. Sometimes, IBS can be treated with diet changes. IBD treatment includes medication, lifestyle changes and even surgery.
Help Your Friend Deal With Symptoms
If you have a loved one with Crohn's or colitis, even if you can't talk about the disease with him or her, you can be emotionally supportive. It's important to have empathy. When your loved one wants to open up, be there. Just listen. Remember that you can't fix the problem. You can help your friend not feel embarrassed about their symptoms.
Put yourself in your friend's shoes. A person with Crohn's or colitis may be anxious about going out in public. Having quick access to toilets is essential when symptoms flare up. A person with IBD often needs to control everything he or she eats. Going out to dinner at a new restaurant can be intimidating. Thinking about a long journey can be frightening. Be accommodating when your loved one doesn't feel well. Managing a chronic condition is physically and emotionally draining. Be flexible when planning.
Encourage Your Loved One
Crohn's disease can cause a person's weight to fluctuate. This can have negative affects on a person's self-esteem. Surgery scars can feel embarrassing. Some people with IBD have stoma bags to collect digestive waste instead of having bowel movements out of the rectum. This can make a person feel self-conscious in public. Tell your friend that you love him or her no matter what.
Be Understanding When Making Plans
Crohn's and colitis symptoms aren't always predictable. Planning events can be challenging when you don't know if your symptoms will let you go or not. When a loved one cancels plans, be understanding. If a friend with IBD doesn't seem to want to go out with you, ask what you can do with them. It might not be the symptoms that are challenging. The cost of medication could put a damper on finances. It might be different concern. Find ways to keep your friend in the loop to avoid isolation, which can make symptoms even more overwhelming.
Living with Crohn's or colitis is difficult enough without being judged for having the condition. There are many reasons people develop a disease. Telling a person to avoid stress or to think positively isn't helpful. Let your friend his or her feelings without judgment. Don't assume that IBD happened because of poor diet choices. Food choices vary by patient. Trust that your loved one knows what's best.
Support Your Friend By Being There
Your friend's health is no reflection of your actions or inactions. Just be there for your friend. It will make a real difference in their life.